16 March 2012

21 Jump Street

Jonah Hill, left, and Channing Tatum are shown in a scene from "21 Jump Street."
I have vague recollections of the late-1980s TV series "21 Jump Street." I know it starred Johnny Depp and involved police officers going undercover at high schools and colleges. I do not remember it being a comedy.

But that's what we get with the 2012 movie adaptation.

The bigger surprise? It doesn't just work, it works really well.

Star Jonah Hill and screenwriter Michael Bacall, who share the story credit, and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs") run the basic scenario through the modern, R-rated comedy machine and give us a movie loaded with laughs, colored with a layer of self-awareness, peppered with action and built around a surprisingly sweet emotional core.

An even bigger surprise? Channing Tatum, whose acting in the past always has failed to be as interesting as his name, gives a fine comedic performance.

Hill and Tatum are, respectively, rookie police officers Schmidt and Jenko. The two are polar opposites: Jenkocaptain of the football team, homecoming king—was popular in high school; Schmidt—a bleached-blond Eminem clone a few years after it might have been considered cool—was not. Seven years later, Schmidt and Jenko meet again at the police academy, where they find they need each other—Jenko's physical attributes, Schmidt's study skills—to graduate. They become fast friends and find police work isn't exactly what they thought it would be as they ride their bicycles through an idyllic park.

A botched bust lands them in hot water, resulting in a transfer to the ramshackle precinct on Jump Street, where the ornery captain (Ice Cube) sends them undercover to break up a synthetic drug ring at a local high school.

A mix-up in their cover identities and a recent shift in teen culture lands Schmidt with the popular crowd, including drug dealer Eric (Dave Franco) and his semi-girlfriend Molly (Brie Larson), and Jenko buddying up to his classmates in honors chemistry.

The filmmakers (including Hill and Tatum, who have executive producer credits) take advantage of how ridiculous the premise is and create a running joke out of it, the movie operating on an extra level not normally seen in an action-comedy

At the same time, there is a real story of friendship—the chemistry between Hill, newly trim and fresh off his "Moneyball" Oscar nomination, and Tatum, who proves to be an adept physical comedian, powers the movie more than anything else—and truth about the high school experience. It's "Superbad" with a car chase and a gunfight.

I know many movie-goers have grown tired of Hollywood repeatedly dipping into the past to remake or reboot old TV or film franchises. "21 Jump Street" the movie, though, shows more imagination than most of today's original productions.

Greg’s Grade: B+

(Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material, teen drinking and some violence. 109 minutes.)

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